Monday, March 16, 2009

Photographing Gravestones an Invasion of Privacy?

A church governing board in Fayette County, Kentucky has written David Shannon, a genealogist, forbidding him to photograph any tombstones in its churchyard that aren't of his family members and publishing them on his webpage, Seems they believe this is an invasion of privacy of the deceased (read more here).

Or more likely, a way of the public getting information for free that the church is offering for sale.

Just a case in point, tombstones are public information. And the dead don't have privacy rights.

If it weren't so sadly pathetic, it'd be funny, like one of Chris's Genealogy Exclusives.

Hat tip: Shared by Laura Prescott on Facebook


DianaR said...

Wow - what a shame! As you say, surely the church board members don't seriously think they have a leg to stand on calling information on a gravestone "private".

I take pictures all the time - and post them on Find A Grave and other sites as well. I know that I am THRILLED when I find that someone has "violated the privacy" of any of my ancestors by posted info on their gravestones.

Brian said...

Oh oh, I was violating privacy yesterday when I got some non-family gravestone photos from someone not in the area. I'll have to watch my back for the feds.

Claudia's thoughts said...

I also think that if it is out in public it could not be called private. If a person broke into a locked cemetery or value then it would be tresspassing.

Anonymous said...

I have had people sort of come unglued when they see me photographing headstones of their relatives. I really don't understand the big deal. Public information sitting there in the marble orchard. It's not like I am defacing it, just photographing.

I always tell people that they can go online ( and request it to be removed. I personally have never had a removal request.

I am glad that you put this on your blog.

Susan said...

Unbelievable isn't it? What next, maybe reading someone's obituary would be invading their privacy?
Sue Edminster

Bill West said...

I hate to say it, but my first thought was that the church must have a list or pictures of the
gravestones for sale...and sure enough...

Bill West said...

Miriam, Chris has posted on this
as well in his own inimitable style!

Anonymous said...

I do think that it invades the FAMILY's privacy rights to come across an unauthorized photo of a dear relative's headstone on an internet website. This has happened to me. While I understand the research value of listing graves, years of birth/death of individuals from a geneological perspective, it's quite another thing for a perfect stranger to post tombstones. It's not the decedent's privacy that's violated. It's the family members. Graves are personal, family matters, and to see my father's headstone on a website and not having been asked if it would be OK, that's not right. I completely understand the rationale for complaining. Quite frankly, I think it's a little odd for someone to go out to a cemetery and photograph, and post on the internet, photographs of tombstones of people having nothing in common with the photographer. It simply appears to the weird curiosity of people. So, I disagree that simply because it's in a cemetery open the public, it's OK. Isn't there any simply decency left anymore. Does everything have to be posted on the internet!

Miriam said...

If not for the kindness (or as you call it--weird curiosity) of perfect strangers, I would not have a clue as to what most of my ancestral headstones look like. I only have four ancestors buried west of the Mississippi: one in St. Paul, MN; one in San Antonio, TX; and two in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the closest to me, an eight-hour drive. I am very grateful that people take the time to photograph my family's headstones for me. Most have done it before I knew these stones existed, so they were not done at my request. Because of that, I have discovered more family members to add to my family tree, than I would have if only the headstones I requested to be photographed, were.

Tell me the difference between a perfect stranger looking at a headstone in a cemetery and reading its transcription, and a perfect stranger looking at a photo of a headstone on the Internet and reading its transcription. If there were a privacy issue, there would be no information printed to read!

It really comes down to what the law says, which is that the deceased have no privacy. If the family wanted to keep information private from the public, they would have an unmarked grave, plain and simple. The fact that a family spends a heap of money for a tombstone with information printed on it declares that this is information that the family would like the public to know.

One more point: I know of many Jewish headstones that have been preserved in photographs only, because some kind strangers did so. It was a good thing they did, because some malicious strangers have then come and desecrated and destroyed those tombstones as racist acts. If it were not for the photographs, the descendants of those buried in the Jewish cemetery would have no idea where their ancestors were buried or what was written on their tombstones.

Anonymous said...

Some are more considerate than others. I have many unique headstone photos I wouldn't post unless I have consent. It's consideration. I don't add people to my tree with out consent. I think most genealogist are self serving and don't care about living people... families that have no clue,you are posting their information. As for the comments here,they sound immature and selfish.
It is a scary world we live in..

Miriam said...

Dear Anonymous:

I agree with your first and third sentences. My comment to your second and fourth are "that's your right and I support your consideration of others." I heartily disagree with your last three sentences.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

Anonymous said...

Of course you disagree. I figured the question "Photographing Gravestones an invasion of privacy"
wasn't for someone who believe in someones right, not to have a family members head stone on the internet.
I post my family headstone photos on the US gen site. I have had family members ask me not to post anything on line.
As far as my last 2 sentences,in my opinion are true. If a church has a cemetery, members have loved ones buried there. I am glad the board stood up for them, if it was their wish. No need to post.. Not looking for attention just ran across your board and didn't realise it was stll on a tab I wont be back to read a reply. People who make fun of the way others feel about their heritage is disturbing to me. I read a lot of articles by pros, who have a lot more understanding.